Nicro urges rehabilitation of young offenders to avert revolving doors at prisons

The number of youth awaiting trial is concerning said NICRO. Picture: file

The number of youth awaiting trial is concerning said NICRO. Picture: file

Published Jun 26, 2022


A PRISONERS’ rights organisation has called for intensified focus on rehabilitating young offenders who have a higher chance of re-offending.

South African National Institute for Crime Prevention (Nicro) has also raised concerns over the number of awaiting trial young inmates.

According to the organisation, while there are no official re-offending rates available for South African prisons, the only statistics available come from small-scale civil society studies – placing the re-offending rate between 50% and 94% for offenders of all ages.

Nicro’s operational manager, Betzi Pierce, said research showed that younger individuals were at the onset of crime, at greater risk of having offending behaviour being entrenched. This resulted in far greater resistance to change.

“Offenders who are left untreated also tend to get more violent over time. In addition, youth don’t have the necessary support and resources in the community to ensure that they don’t turn back to crime,” said Pierce.

While Nicro acknowledged that prison was a necessity, especially for dangerous offenders, the organisation which specialised in social crime prevention and offender reintegration for adults and children, believed that many offenders should be handed non-custodial sentences.

“Nicro advocates (for) a problem-solving rather than a punitive approach to offenders. For those offenders who are sent to prison, they must be afforded access to education and psychological and social services.

“The skills shortage in prisons must be addressed as a matter of urgency,” added Pierce.

She said the effectiveness of imprisonment as a sanction has always been the subject of debate.

“While imprisonment should, in theory, bring about behavioural change, as well as improved education and training, this does not occur on the scale that is needed.

“On the contrary, persons often leave prison with no improvement to their behaviour, nor with their ability and resolve to commit crime lessened.

“Imprisonment often decreases offenders’ future prospects; most persons leave prison ill-equipped to lead a constructive life in society and are frequently at a disadvantage because they have been in prison.

“Stigmatisation and marginalisation leading to social exclusion often follow imprisonment, resulting in conditions that soon lead to re-offending. This results in what is referred to as the ‘revolving door effect’,” said Pierce.

NICRO said offenders who are sent to prison, must be afforded access to education and psychological and social services. l ITUMELENG ENGLISH

“It would appear as if prisons are not fulfilling their mandate to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders back into society.”

Nicro’s Anneke Burns explained that their views were in line with restorative justice principles, especially where youth incarceration was concerned.

“Diversion is an early intervention and cannot always be used for offenders, but it is really important that we deal with offenders when they start committing crime. If we leave them, their behaviour will escalate and become entrenched.

“Non-custodial sentencing is also an important element, where diversion service prevents them from going into the stream of imprisonment. Once they are considered for going into the stream of imprisonment, there is still that opportunity to keep them out of prison by putting them on a non-custodial sentence where they will get the treatment that they need,” said Burns.

He said they also had stringent criteria for young offenders to be a part of their programmes.

“For instance, there has to be a low possibility for them to re-offend. They also cannot be a habitual offender, which is a risk to society. But the main target is to keep them out of the prison system.

“At Nicro, we don’t want it to get to the point of them being exposed or the prison behaviour to be integrated into their social lives.

“This is why we believe that crime prevention is nation building, and we need to start building with our youth.”